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This last three months I’ve been mostly …

Putting my dad in a home.

As I may have hinted, things have been extremely tough since Christmas. Dad doesn’t respond to Christmas so well at the best of times – I suspect he is as ambivalent about it as I am – but he excelled himself this year. Mum flipped from being happy to have him at home to admitting that things were too much to deal with in about three weeks. Fair play to my brother for getting us to pick out a home for him because booyacka, we had it lined up. However, Mum needs care too and this home cost the same, per week, as care for the two of them did, at home.

Then, I realised Dad had run out of money. Dad and Mum kept their stocks and shares separate, which is unusual for married couples. As I’d understood it, when Dad’s cash ran out we were supposed to blat through Mum’s. Then when they got down to their last £24,250 each, they’d be eligible for whatever the state sees fit to give. Except it’s a sliding scale so it’s actually their last £18,250 that counts.

However, after an exploration on the Alzheimer’s Society forum I discovered that each person is taken separately. So I got the process in train for Dad. That was OK but the grist of government grinds slow and we knew it would take time.

Time was not really a commodity we had.

Dad reached the point where he was screaming and bellowing in rage all day every day. He didn’t recognise the house he’d lived in for 40 years but thought he lived in Eastbourne somewhere. He was anxious and angry. I am guessing he thought we’d all kidnapped him. He wasn’t even sure who we were. One visit, he was reasonably with it and asked me,

‘Why do you keep calling me Dad?’
‘Would you rather I didn’t?’ I asked.
‘Yes, please.’

After that, I called him by his name; John, until he suddenly recognised me – the trick is not to make them think about recognising you too hard – and called me by my name. Then I knew we were OK and when I called him Dad again, after that, he knew who I was, and more to the point, who he was.

That was the one decent trip. The rest were terrible. Especially the one following it. As well as shouting and railing at people Dad threw things at them, spat at them and cleared his throat and spat on the floor. His entire record collection was torn from the shelves next to his chair and frisbeed, Odd-Job-style at others. Mum had to sit in the kitchen because it just wasn’t safe for her to be with him in the drawing room. At points, even the carers had to leave him alone. He would be shouting commanding them to come to see him and yelling about what horrible people they were to leave him alone. Then, when they did, he’d tell them he didn’t know who they were to fuck off. He didn’t sleep at night for two months and thus it was that we learned how lack of sleep makes a person totally, utterly psychotic.

And so it went on.

Then, the Community Dementia Nurse came to see him for a scheduled visit. She is a star. I explained we were waiting for the slow machinations of the state and was worried about Mum’s well being in the interim. Mum couldn’t bear to see Dad suffer, and felt that if he was miserable at home, he may as well be miserable in a nursing home where he wouldn’t be keeping everyone else up in quite the same way if he started shouting at night. And also, she couldn’t cope with seeing the man she loved and had been married to for 53 years in this kind of mental state 24/7. The community dementia nurse agreed and promptly got the emergency dementia team to come and look at him.

We discussed sectioning, but Mum decided against it on compassionate grounds, because it would involve too much moving him around. They could also take him away for 3 days for respite but we decided that, too, would be unkind because it would just disorientate him more. However, they did get him off the waiting list for a social worker when the duty social worker stepped up and agreed to take him on straight away, in light of the urgency of his case. They also did what is called a cognition test, which he failed, which meant that the lasting power of attorney over his health was activated. I confess, I’ve never been so fucking glad I did anything as I am that we got that power of attorney.

In November 2017, we had a family get together and when we did, we got Dad and Mum to sign the forms for lasting power of attorney over their health. They’d done financial in 2004 when Dad realised he was going nuts. Discussing the health form with Dad, the week before, was one of to the last times I saw him able to grapple with abstract concepts. I am so glad that we sorted it out in time and more to the point, that I got a firm idea what he would want. Also I have to totally commend the government office that does this. I have dyscalculia, filling in forms correctly is my nemesis but they have a helpline and they were brilliant and endlessly patient with my dumb enquiries.

One of the areas where my brother and I are very lucky is that my parents both have a strong faith. Neither of them is afraid of death, or afraid to use the word, ‘death’. No pussy footing around calling it ‘passing away’ because the word ‘death’ is too scary for their ickle wickle sensibilities, they can look it full in the face. Neither of them has ever been afraid to discuss death, their funeral and what they would like to happen to them if they were ill and unable to outline treatment preferences for themselves. Indeed, they have always been keen to ensure my brother and I knew. They are DNR (do not resuscitate) but if you are elderly and wish this carried over into, for example, not being treated if you have Alzheimer’s and contract cancer or the like, you may need someone to have power of attorney over your health if you know they might have to overrule medical professionals, especially if. you want them to carry out your wishes not to be kept alive.

You see, back in the day, the doctors made the decisions. If someone was suffering and weary of life and they got pneumonia, rather than prescribing antibiotics, the doctors might ‘make them comfortable’. They’re not allowed to do this any more. The patient, or the patient’s family, have to make the decision, with their guidance. BUT relatives and family also have to be authorised to make decisions with the relevant Lasting Power of Attorney.

During their visit, the emergency dementia team suggested we check Dad for a urinary tract infection. This we did. He had one, but unfortunately, the only difference it made was that Dad was now more aware when he needed a wee. At the end of that week (and the end of January) I remember dropping McMini off to school one Friday and on the way home, I popped into church, lit four candles; one each for me, my brother, my father and my mother. Then I sat in a quiet corner and cried. I’m not very good at praying and I don’t know exactly what God is, whether it’s an actual entity or just quantum mechanics explained badly to simplistic people a few thousand years ago. But I believe that Jesus was ace and that there is something out there that’s really hard to explain.

Anyway, I just sat there with the situation laid out and asked whatever it is for help. That done, I went home, rang my Mum for a chat and half way through, Dad had a funny turn in the bathroom and the carer called Mum through. I cleared off the line and left them to call the emergency services. A while later I got a call from the paramedic who explained that Dad would be going into hospital for the afternoon as his heart rate was high but that he’d probably be home by the evening.

When Dad got there, it transpired he had a chest infection. He was kept in and given intra-venus antibiotics.

Mum and I had two big questions to discuss.

First, should they treat him? If they’d told us it was pneumonia, we agreed that we’d have asked them to ‘make him comfortable’ but a chest infection is different, he might feel really shit for three weeks and then recover, so he had antibiotics.

We felt that Dad was miserable and not enjoying life any more. While he was behaving like a six year old but clearly enjoying life it was different but now, definitely, he was giving off the vibe that he’d had enough. The biggest one was that he was refusing his medication. If the carers asked him, please, just for me, he’d take it but if they said it was to keep him well he’d refuse. We agreed, with my brother, that there’d be no more heroic medicine for Dad (great phrase isn’t it? This is what things like, giving someone antibiotics to cure pneumonia are called).

All meds that will increase Dad’s quality of life stay but he now takes nothing to prolong it. The doctors at the hospital commended us on this as the most practical, sensible and compassionate path. He is still taking meds to help with his gout, his Alzheimer’s, his sleep etc, things that make him comfortable or make his life easier. Nothing to keep him alive.

The second big question we had to work out while Dad was in hospital was, were we going to have him back home, or were we going to press to get him straight into a decent nursing home from there? In hospital Dad slept lots and while he was still swearing and flailing his arms around when people tried to wash him or put a clean pull up on him, with rest and proper sleep Dad, real Dad, came back to us. He recognised me on sight, knew where he lived and wanted to go home. But if he did return home, then we’d be bouncing him out again to a nursing home. Because he’d soon stop sleeping on home turf, and with the lack of sleep, become completely psychotic again.

After discussing it all with Mum and my brother, we realised we had the opportunity to speed up the system if he went to a home from hospital and it genuinely seemed the kindest course. I told the hospital we could no longer cope with him at home.

He stayed in hospital just under a month while we got his condition assessed, his finances assessed and got everything sorted. Dad is fully funded but as he has a teacher’s pension, he gets little or no actual reduction on his care home fees BUT he does pay the fully funded price, which is about 40% of what he’d pay otherwise. So the horrific prospect of the money running out for Mum’s care within the next six months has been averted temporarily. I reckon we can do a year, possibly two and a lot can happen over that time. Another year and Mum may be happy to move somewhere smaller.

Dad was assessed by a local home, which we wanted him to go into, but was considered too difficult for them to deal with. We had been warned this might happen and so the Social worker explained she’d look for homes with harder-core care facilities.

Mid February, while dealing with all this, I got flu and after five days in bed, while I was creeping about with a chest and sinus infection, we got the call that there was a place for Dad. We were offered two homes, and funded or part-funded places. Something about the way the social worker spoke about one of the homes attracted my attention at once.  I looked at the information about both but the moment I saw the website for that first home, I knew it was a good fit. It was also in the right place, at the back of the local market town, reachable in 20 minutes for Mum. I rang them and they were lovely, which seemed a good sign, but I knew we had to move fast. As it was half term, my brother happened to be staying at the time so he and his little ones and Mum went and looked round. They confirmed that it was every bit as lovely as it looked on the website and the staff every bit as pleasant as they’d seemed on the phone. Also, Dad’s best friend, who died last year, was in there for recuperation after an operation some years ago. His son spoke highly of it.

So we took their fully funded place and Mum and her/Dad’s carer took him down there two weeks ago. It was a while before I threw off the infection and could visit but when I did, it felt like a happy school. There are forty inmates and I’d say all of them were up and about, spread between three rooms. The decor was a little tatty but clearly well looked after. There was a burble of contented conversation and Dad was sitting at a table on his own, quite happy and contented, looking at a tank of fish.

A lady came and cut his hair, apologising that she only had one cape for him to wear because another resident didn’t want to take the other one off! Dad and I chatted to her and that kept him from getting impatient until the very end. I left him about to have lunch. He didn’t bat an eyelid when I went, just waved me a cheery goodbye.

So far, so good. Fingers crossed.

What impressed me most about the home was that they are completely unfazed by Dad’s inappropriate behaviour. When the carer and Mum arrived all the residents were up and about even though many of them are as free of any behavioural filters as Dad. He is so much more relaxed and happy and because of that, he’s so much more with it. And it’s such a weight off knowing he’s there and OK. I hadn’t realised how wound up I was about it all until we got Dad into this place, and I began to relax a bit.

Everyone in there shouts or does odd stuff from time to time because they have Alzheimer’s. When it attacks the frontal lobes of the brain, especially, it can cause the person to become aggressive. And at Dad’s home, this behaviour happens from time to time, but they are really good at dealing with it and settling everyone down again and the attitude is so good. They stop the trouble but they deal with it as if it’s nothing more significant than spilling a glass of water. And that’s the point isn’t it? Because as they’re dementia patients, for them that’s all it is.

Seeing the other residents has been strangely cathartic for us, too. We always tell ourselves that Dad is the same as any other Alzheimer’s sufferer, we are aware that he can’t help it, but sometimes, out there in the world, we still feel responsible. Unacceptable behaviour is still unacceptable, even if the person doing it is not responsible for their own actions. And when it’s your father or your husband, it’s also hurtful sometimes, being told to fuck off. And no matter how strong and calm you try to be, you’re human and this is someone who loves you, it’s still going to hurt.

Likewise, we understand that Dad just has a disability but we still feel the pressure to manage him ‘right’ because to us, these outbursts look like distress. But in the home, with other people all around him who are the same, we realise we are not alone, Dad is not alone and that in many instances, neither he nor they are distressed much either.

Because Alzheimer’s breaks down all the filters, and that’s why many of these outbursts are a lot less dreadful than they might appear, more of a ‘pfft that’s irritating!’ than the cry of existential angst they look like to the rest of us. Anyway, we’ve seen the existential angst: days of shouting from morning to night! Nothing in the home is like that.

I think Dad’s arrival sums it up. Mum and the carer brought him in and a little old dear sitting near the door looked up and smiled at them.

‘Hello,’ said Mum’s carer.
‘Fuck off!’ said the little old dear.

Yeh, Dad fits right in.

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Knowledge comes when you least expect it …

This month, I have mostly been ill.

That isn’t the entire sum of it, obviously. I mean there weekend at the end with the dig where I found the howling beastie and there was a rather jolly week after that plus a weekend when we had visitors and I danced arthritically on a table, remember. McMini was ill on the Sunday our guests left and off school the entire week. Then it was half term and he gave whatever it was he’d had to me in time for me to be ill over the school break, obviously. McMini threw it off in a week or so, but felt a bit weird from time to time during the half term holiday. McOther binned it in about twenty four hours. I felt as ill as I’ve felt since I was ten, and had the highest temperature I’ve had since I was ten too, a mighty 103.9 but it was only for one day and on the up side, I got rid of it in four days. On the downside it’s kindly left me with a chest and a sinus infection which I foolishly believed would go on its own. Needless to say I’ve managed to get the one that involves experimenting with multiple courses of antibiotics and some steroids. I have two friends who are ahead of me having completed my current regimen of eight pills plus a blue and white capsule every morning.

Upsides? Well, to be honest, anything is better than the way I felt with the flu AND I was well enough to creep out for a half term outing the day my flu subsided, despite feeling very dizzy and post feverish, so we got a quick day trip in before McOther went back to work on the Thursday and Friday of half term. We all ventured out again on the Saturday so at least we did have a half term that felt like it actually was a holiday, sort of. Neither McMini nor I was up to much on the Thursday and Friday anyway. He was much better but still fatigued and post viral, I was, thankfully, back to normal human temperature, albeit feeling a little tight across the chest and laughing like Mutley as the chest infection began to take hold. We chilled and relaxed together which was lovely, he screened (probably too much) and I read a stack of books! I even discovered a Jim Webster short from the Port Naain Intelligencer series that had escaped my notice. Bonus!

The half term trips out were both to air museums. The first, I had discovered quite by chance going to a dig back before Christmas. First I passed a farm selling raw milk from a vending machine outside. It also had what it called a cheese window. It was obligatory that I photographed that for McMini who loathes and detests yet also obsesses, slightly, over cheese. A few hundred yards further on and suddenly, in what looked like a pub car park.

Aeroplanes.

Not just any old aeroplanes either. Jets. I had passed it by the time it registered and stopped the car.

‘Did I just see that?’

I backed up.

‘Bloody hell. Yes I did!’

I took a photo and squirrelled it away for future reference. So it was, that ‘Future Reference’ turned out to be my sickly Wednesday half term day out.

It was a cracking museum. Not only were there some excellent and interesting planes but there was a fascinating collection of pieces of plane that had been hauled up in the nets of the fishing fleet based around Lowestoft, Gorleston on Sea and Great Yarmouth. This stuff was amazingly well preserved, yet a lot of it was crumpled and bent because it got into the sea by being blown apart. There were wonderful planes, helecopters and there were rooms full of artefacts, models and what I tend to call shed finds. All of it was free to look at and staffed by knowledgeable and enthusiastic volunteers. The loos were lovely too, clean, well stocked with loo roll and soap, the towel dryers worked and they were warm! Ah bliss.

While we were there, I discovered a shed find of my own. First let’s spool back a few years. Er hem, about thirty eight, to be precise. I was a nipper and my brother and I had a rubber dinghy which Dad would inflate, laboriously, with a foot pump when we went to the beach. A rubber dinghy, friends from other nations, is basically an inflatable rowing boat. Nothing to do with sailing. Anyway, back to the story.

The inflation process was pretty lengthy, so the dinghy was only wheeled out on day trips. Days at Stiffkey salt marshes when we were on holiday in Norfolk, or trips to Cuckmere haven; that kind of stuff. But back home, on a Saturday morning, or after school, when we wanted to go to the beach for a quick swim, I still wanted to be able to scull about on the waters. To this end, one holiday in Greece I bought a thing that was a cross between a surf board and boogie board, made of polystyrene. You couldn’t stand on it and surf, it would break in half, but it was ok to lie on it and scull with your arms or you could sit and row with a double ended oar. Except I didn’t have one and the only oars were to be kept with the dinghy on pain of death, after arriving somewhere and discovering we only had one.

Blue oar … the varnish has turned brown, which hasn’t done it any favours, it was a much prettier colour.

So it was, on warm afternoon ferreting about in my grandparents’ shed I discovered some of my grandmother’s toys, which she let me have, and an oar in a pleasing shade of blue. The oar had a brass bit in the middle and had clearly come apart into two halves at one point, before someone had drilled a couple of holes and put a some screws in to keep it together. OK so it wasn’t double-ended but it would be better than nothing for sculling about on my crap, polystyrene neither-boat-nor-surf-nor-boogie-board. Could I have it? I asked Nye, my grandmother, and when she agreed that yes, I could, I was stoked. I bore it triumphantly home.

As my mother made a space for me to put it in the car, she explained that it came from her and my uncle’s rubber dinghy. Said dinghy, like ours, had been used to great effect but, like ours, was also somewhat reliant on the stalwartness of those available to pump it up, and, of course, the time available. At the point in my mother and uncle’s life when it was in use, my grandfather was working in Greece and my mother, uncle and grandmother would take a two day flight out, in a Dakota, to join him for the long summer holidays. This meant that the only people available to pump the thing up each time on beach trips during term time weekends or half term, were my grandmother and Grand Nan, Mum and Uncle’s nanny.

Mum then went on to tell us about a trip the four of them made to Newhaven beach with the rubber dingy. My grandfather was still in Greece at this point, trying, on one hand, to help set up the new Bank of Greece and general economy in the aftermath of the war and on the other hand, making concerted efforts not to be killed in the revolution. He saw a fair few atrocities perpetrated by both sides – quite a lot of lining people up and shooting them down with machine guns – and at one point he had to defend the Bank of Greece from a communist attack. I never got the full story of this one, I should think it took a fair bit of balls from all of them, but he always spun it as less to do with courage and more about an ardent desire to avoid being put up against the wall, alongside his staff, and machine gunned. He and the staff held the bank and he was given an OBE. Needless to say the OBE, itself, has long since been nicked from a relative’s house in Kew, according to the police, by drug addicts burgling small shiny things to sell for the next fix – although we still have the box (there’s always an upside).

Anyway, Grand Nan, as she was called, and Nye (my grandmother) worried about the possibility of their little charges floating out to sea while they were engrossed in their reading or their conversation, had an ingenious idea. They took a long piece of string and tied one end to the dinghy and the other to Grand Nan’s wrist. Grand Nan was wonderful; tiny, twinkly eyed and gentle. She had a great sense of fun, and humour, and she was still around when I arrived on the planet. I’m not sure quite how effective she would have been as anchorage but clearly she felt she would cut the mustard. She is another of the people from my Sussex past who turned out to come from near my Suffolk present. She was from Thetford and her grandfather was head gardener on the Elvendon estate, I believe.

Sorry, gone off on another tangent again, where was I? Ah yes. Grand Nan and Nye sat back to chat, or read books or generally chill on the rug while the joyful chatter of Mum and Uncle told them all was well in the dinghy. They were soon so engrossed in their conversation that they didn’t notice a large ship come out of Newhaven harbour and sail rather close to the shore. Neither did they notice the wash, which presented itself in the form of a couple of very large waves heading for the beach.

Mum, in the dinghy, realised something was amiss but too late. The dinghy breasted the first wave and her and my uncle bobbed happily over it, unscathed. Then the second wave came and washed them onto the shore. Mum said she remembered seeing Nye and Grand Nan looking shocked with the the wave which had broken and reached the fluffy white stage now, sloshing over them, and the rug, as she and my uncle, in the dingy, floated gracefully past them. Mum and Uncle were deposited on dry ground a little further up the beach and left there as the wave retreated. Grand Nan and Nye scrambled about in the undertow rescuing rug, lunch, thermos, shoes, books, towels and their clothes. To their impressive credit, I believe nothing was lost. I suspect Mum and Uncle were less than sympathetic. Mum says that even at 85 years old, having seen a lot of funny things, the sight of her mother and nanny scrambling for their belongings, as she and my uncle were floating gently past, still ranks as one of the funniest things she has ever seen in her life.

This one’s in the museum.

How can you discover something about your mother and uncle’s rubber dinghy at an air museum, I hear you ask? Ah you’d be amazed at the things you can learn in the most unexpected places if you are prepared to explore. While I examined the exhibits in an area devoted to rescues at sea, I found an oar which came apart into two halves. It was painted a pleasing shade of dark blue. It was exactly the same as mine.

That is how, by going to an air museum in Gorleston, I discovered that my mother and uncle’s rubber dingy was the escape raft from a B17 bomber. The rubber ‘dinghy’ that went with is long gone, but even so, it transpires I have the oar from a B17 bomber’s escape raft in my shed.

This bit of plane was used in the film, The Dambusters.

On an end note; if the person who stole a red-ribboned medal from a house in Kew in the late 1980s/early 1990s is still around. OK no they’re probably dead but if they got clean or or if anyone out there bought an OBE that was given to R B T Castle from someone who looked quite high, do get in touch because I’d love to buy it back.

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This week I have mostly been … unmentionable.

At some point I will have to talk about the next stage of Dad … but I can’t do that right now so instead, highlights of the other bits!

This week has been … interesting. The noisy cricket is playing up again, this time, its indicators have stopped working along with one of the daylight running lights. It’s as if it’s driving around with a permanent wink, its driver’s side daylight running light refusing to cooperate. Perhaps it’s having a dirty protest, it is filthy and I haven’t washed it. Then again, a few minutes on the motorway network does that to a car in weather like we’ve had lately. It’s like a brown pod. I have to keep cleaning the muck off the windows to see the wing mirrors. I have to keep cleaning them and all, and the numberplate has long since disappeared under the grime.

Luckily, the mechanic I use is very good and after looking at it he realised that one, it’s an intermittent fault and two, if I have the headlights on dipped all the time the indicator starts working again. He said that the probable fault was a dodgy connection or a dirty contact and the ECU was worrying it would knacker itself and was trying to protect it. With these electrical faults, he explained, he and his colleagues spend a lot of time arguing with the car. If the Noisy Cricket’s ECU is like the AI system that came up with the designs for love heart sweets you can see in the nearby picture, I feel I may be avoiding expensive repairs by driving with my headlights on for some time. Low beam and high beam only, the side lights don’t work either. Maybe I’ll get it fixed if I sell the car. BTW, on the picture, I particularly like the second love heart from bottom, for Scotsmen everywhere! Get yer hole! Snortle.

What else is happening? McMini has been ill all week, except the day I had to drive to Sussex to see Dad and Mum. So it’s been a bit full on because I haven’t managed to get out of the house. Except this morning when I got to ride my bike up to the school and collect McMini’s lunch box. Didn’t fancy leaving the uneaten chicken sandwich to fester over half term week. Mmm Mmm. E-coli anyone? I have developed a kind of low down cough. It’s like wheezing and I only realised, last night, that it’s just the usual cough tickle except it’s further in. No deadening this one with mouth ulcer cream then. Pity. I thought of going to the Doctor’s but when I get to the what colour is your snot question I’ll have to say that I don’t know because it’s still in there. So they’ll just tell me to go and have a lie down.

On the metal detecting front, things have been a bit freaky. I managed to find a bucket list item, a stirrup mount. They

A Norman stirrup mount.

used to put metal bits on to protect the stirrup leathers so they wouldn’t wear out and fall off. I only dug it up because I was on a job to remove the iron from the fields. The signal sounded like iron and when I flipped out the clod of earth a massive nut rolled out (to go with the massive nut digging it) but alongside it something green and triangular pinged into the grass a few yards away. Ooops. I retrieved it, not daring to hope that I’d found a Saxon stirrup mount but the artefact was too claggy with mud to tell.

It being me, this was not Anglo Saxon, although it was the same style and mechanically mounted the same way, but the design is Romanesque, which puts it from 1060 to about 1140. It’s an early one, I reckon, because it’s a similar shape to the Saxon ones (to my untrained eye). It’s known as howling beast style. I was dead chuffed as had I not been digging everything, I’d have left it.

Another howling beastie! Woot!

The following weekend I had a lovely flu bug but the one after was a club dig on some interesting land where I’ve found good things. To my amazement, the first signal I had was a kind of high-pitched screechy one that usually means can-slaw or lumps of lead (although lead can be interesting so I always dig it up). Recently I’ve had a few squeaky signals like this and they’ve been Roman coins which was a surprise and also spurred me on. I dug a hole and out popped another stirrup mount, exactly the same as the previous one, except this time the howling beastie was pointing the other way. Woot! Two consecutive signals, albeit fifty odd miles and a couple of weeks apart and I have a set.

Sadly I got nothing else that day, indeed, it was slightly difficult because after about an hour I became aware that I was very much in need of a wee but there was no cover. I have bought myself a thing from the internet (Where else?) that allows me to stand up and wee, like a bloke, but I do prefer to take my trousers down beforehand because … you know … wiping. But there was nowhere to wipe in privacy. A few hours later and I realised that a) I’d dug up just about every piece of metal buried in the vicinity of the stirrup mount and it was all junk and that b) the need to find a secluded spot to have a wizz was getting somewhat critical. I looked around and decided to trudge across the field and up a hill across another field to a small copse.

Having trundled up there, bitching and complaining about my sore knees the whole way like some ancient crone, I found a secluded spot behind a hedge. Well, I say secluded since it was a spot that couldn’t be seen from the fields my fellow detectorists were working on but in the other direction it was an open invitation for anyone looking on from anywhere in a 180 degree radius to see parts of a middle aged woman that are best left unexposed. And bum wiping.

Never mind. Needs must. The glorious thing about being middle aged is you cease to give a flying fuck about anything. This is especially true if you’ve had kids because then you will, of course, have given birth to your dignity, never to see it again, with the first one.

It was cold so I was wearing skiing trousers and wool long johns and was layered up with shirts so it took me a while to pull my pants down. Just a bit, not so far that you’re going to be shaking your lettuce at anyone who sees you. Then I got out my she-wee. The she-wee is a fantastic invention. No, not fantastc, it’s chuffing magnificent. It’s basically a er hem, lady shaped funnel with a hose that you can put on your bits. At the doctor’s there’s no more peeing all over your hand, or missing the silly little jar completely when you’re asked for a mid flow sample ladies, no sireee, no more spending twenty minutes wiping the piss off the seat in a motorway services so you can sit down – ladies with arthritic knees do not hovver, anyway when I hovver it goes sideways and runs down my leg – oh heavens did I just say that out loud, I did didn’t I? Never mind – where was I? Oh yes. The she-wee.

The she-wee lets you wee like Martini; any place any time! With this thing you are golden. Ah, yes, I could have used a better word there. You are not golden, obviously, because that’s the point. I use it all the time and I can thoroughly recommend it with two caveats.

One, you have to put it under your … ok, I’m going to go right ahead and say it … labia, ladies, because that’s what makes the seal, you see. Labia (Lorks a lordy I’ve said it again) to edge of she-wee. Then when it’s all snugly fitted in with no gaps you can start but …

Two, you need to start off gently just in case you’ve got the angle wrong or it’s not tucked in all the way round or something, because if you begin at horse’s pace and then find you’ve got the seal or the angle wrong it’s going to be ugly. You don’t want it all coming out over the back and going on your pants, and the skiing trousers and the long johns, which are wool and not absorbent and which are merely going to allow the wee to flow, unhindered, into your shoe. Obviously, this is not the kind of golden you want to be in a she-wee situation.

Unfortunately, I had a she-wee failure of gargantuan proportions and spent the rest of the afternoon walking like Billy Connolly when he does the incontinence trousers sketch. Then I dug up about fifty signals, still while walking like the Mummy out of 1970s Dr Who and every single sodding one was a shotgun cartridge. People who shoot lob those fucking things absolutely anywhere but in a bin. The littering bastards.

What I’m saying is that after a great start, the day did fall off somewhat. But not too much because salopettes keep the smell in and work in a very similar way to incontinence trousers and, anyway, washing machines, and baths, and the set of howling beasties … Yeh.

Other highlights this week. I danced on a table. I am too arthritic to dance, let alone climb on a table so once on the table I had to be helped off, howling with laughter as I went – I’m a classy lady but you knew that and on the up side, I managed not to fart. It was like the encore of a James Brown concert me dragging myself back, with the help of my acolytes, but rather than onto the stage for an encore, it was back to the safety of the chair. Never mind, at least I didn’t try and sing, Sex Machine.

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Farting around …

Today I’m cheating, I have twenty minutes to write tomrrow’s blog post before my lovely bruv, wife and kids arrive for the weekend. It’s going to be short.  I was going to do something quite deep and metaphysical but as it is, it’s going to be an excerpt from one of my works in progress. So here, from Tripwires, is more wittering about my past I bring you …

The Kitchen Fart

One of the things I love about my parents is that while they taught me that it was important to show consideration for others, they also taught me another very important art, that while consideration is key, there are other instances where it is very important not to give a flying fuck.

The love of farts. What a way to start, but even for British people, my family seems to be peculiarly obsessed. Perhaps it’s just that we share a love of the absurd and there is so much of that to be mined from farts. When I was a teenager, one grandmother, Nye and one grandfather, Gin-Gin, were still around. Gin-Gin was in a home but Nye lived on her own for a while and during that time, she would sometimes come to stay. Obviously, our house wasn’t really ideal for an older person who had trouble getting up and down.

Nye often had to be helped out of our arm chairs because they were a bit too low. When this happened the exertion would often result in her letting loose a thunderous fart. Obviously, despite having a bit of a sense of mischief, Nye was clearly of a view that there are some things a Lady doesn’t mention – and farts appeared to be one of them. So of course, everyone would pretend that the incredibly obvious high-decibel report hadn’t happened. Nye would be handed her sticks and with a quieter fart to mark each stride she would shuffle slowly across the room. Luckily, what the good lord was kind enough to give her in volume, he left out in aroma. We would hear making her way through the hall to the downstairs loo, still farting quietly all the way. Once we heard the door close we would explode with giggles and when she came back after her wee, we’d tell her some terrible joke to explain away our red faces, streaming eyes and uncontrollable laughing.

Amusingly, my Mum’s farts sound exactly the same as Nye’s did, less amusingly, so do mine.

However, while Nye pretended, against all odds, that her farts didn’t exist, Mum has never had any qualms about making some remark about it, or just giggling if she accidentally let one go. One of the most used phrases in our family is, ‘where ere you be let your air blow free, I held mine in, twas the death of me’. If think it comes from a Scottish tombstone somewhere (although the original uses the Scottish dialect ‘gang’ rather than blow which has a slightly different meaning – go/wander – but hey, the sentiment is similar).

The other day, I was with Mum in the kitchen and since it was Mum and it would make her giggle, when I felt one bubbling up, I didn’t bother to ease it quietly out but let it go. Several minutes of childish giggling ensued and Mum said, ‘Good heavens! That sounds exactly like one of mine.’

To which I replied, ‘Just imagine it, if one of the carers has heard it, they won’t know which of us it was!’

‘Or they’ll think it was me,’ she said. ‘I’m worse than Nye these days, I fart every time I stand up.’

After we’d finished chuckling about this, Mum reminded me of an occasion when Dad was still a housemaster. We were in the kitchen, me doing my homework at the table, Mum baking. Two of the girls in one of Dad’s sets were having trouble with some of the Greek they were learning so he had offered them an extra lesson, to explain it all again. They were with him in the next room, the study. Mum had offered them a cup of tea of course, which, Mum being Mum, came with flapjack, home made cake and biscuits. The girls had accepted Mum’s offer so now she had put a tray on the table opposite me and was laying out cups and saucers. She and went to the larder at the other end of the room, to get the biscuit tin. As she made her way across the room she let out what might be the loudest fart I’ve ever heard. It sounded like someone dragging a heavy chair twenty yards across a tiled floor in a room above.

‘Ooo that’s better,’ she said once the furniture had stopped shaking enough for me to be able to hear her, and then both of us fell about laughing. Suddenly, I remembered Dad’s lesson in the next room. On the down side, the doors to both the kitchen and the study were open, on the up side, though ‘next door’ the actual entrance to the study was about four metres away down a corridor.

‘Oh no! Mum, what if the girls heard?’ I asked keenly aware that the attitude to farts displayed by myself and my mum was not standard among females.

‘It’ll be alright, they can’t possibly have heard it from there.’

I thought about the number of times I’d heard my mum fart in the kitchen while watching TV in the drawing room which was a lot further away from the kitchen then the dining room, where the girls where.

‘Seriously Mum, I think they will have done, it was impressively loud.’

‘I do hope not,’ said Mum and we began to giggle some more. ‘Never mind,’ she said as she filled the teapot, ‘we’ll soon know. I’m going to take this through now.’

She came back a few minutes later looking a slightly chastened, but only slightly.

‘I think you’re right,’ she said. ‘Your father clearly didn’t hear a thing, but the girls did, because when I went in with the tea they got the giggles.’

Later I attended reunion at school for women in my house and to my delight, I met the two girls in question and after much giggling as I related the story they confirmed that yes, they had heard the fart loud and clear.

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You need to know the truth about the elephant in the room.

This is a dementia related post I’m afraid, but it’s also, kind of, a warning. As I’ve probably said before, but I’ll say it again, the reason I write the posts about my dad are because most of us have no idea what happens when a person gets Alzheimer’s. Usually, we hear that someone has been diagnosed, they tell people, you meet them around the place and they have memory problems but seem more-or-less OK otherwise, and then they disappear. The next thing that happens is that five years later, you learn they have died. I’ve never known what happened between that point when they stop going out into society and the point at which their death is announced.

Now, I am learning, so I am sharing, as I have done all along, because I hope it might help someone.

Dad tipped suddenly and completely into full on swearing, spitting, shouting lunacy last week. So much so that the dementia nurse who came to see him called in the emergency dementia team. We looked at removing him from the house at once, for respite, but they could only do 3 days and we thought he would merely return even more disorientated and crazy. Then we discussed whether we should have him sectioned and taken to a psychiatric ward somewhere. Mum vetoed that one and certainly, it seems to involve a lot of moving the person about which is not what we want. We were asked how long we could go on with him at home and I told them ten days at the absolute outside.

Obviously, he needs to be elsewhere, fast but he doesn’t realise where he is at home – he asks Mum frequently if he is supposed to know this place and it’s been his home since 1974 – so it’s not going to help him if he’s moved from pillar to post before he’s settled somewhere new. We are hoping we can get him somewhere where he will then either stay, or if it’s miles away, only be compelled to move homes once, when a place crops up somewhere nearer. All this is complicated by the fact that he’s only just run out of cash so the financial assessment hasn’t been done yet – that’s for Wednesday, while his care needs will be assessed on Tuesday.

On the upside, Dad has a urinary tract infection and now that is being treated he may well be a little easier to deal with – UTIs as they call them are well known for exacerbating the symptoms of dementia because they affect kidney function so you get all sorts of stuff building up in the system that shouldn’t be there. However, the fact is, the shouty thing we have seen this last week is where the disease will go next and ideally Dad needs to be out of his home environment and settled in a care home somewhere before that hits full time.

Worse, if we get no progress by the end of the ten day deadline (end of next week) I will have to have him sectioned because he is violent, in that he shoves people and throws things and this presents a considerable threat to someone fragile such as Mum.

There’s a very good bit in The Contented Dementia Sufferer, which has, kind of, been my bible in this process. It talks about how you spot when it’s time to put the person into a home. It explains how you turn your house into a nursing home for this person with dementia and then the moment comes when you look around you and think, ‘hang on, this is ridiculous!’

We have reached that point. Actually, we’ve reached the moment when all three of us have hit that point. My brother has probably been up for having Dad in a home pretty much from the get-go, I have been from about November last year but now Mum has come round to the idea too. He’s unable to express it but I think that even Dad is up for moving to a home. Much of his challenging behaviour could be put down to boredom. Dad is always perfectly manageable when we go out, he hardly swears and is polite and chatty to people. In a busy dementia wing, with lots of folks wandering about, I think Dad would actually thrive. The care team are agreed that he’s bored. So we’ve all reached the same conclusion. Dad needs to go into a home.

Next we have to make it happen as quickly and compassionately as possible for all parties concerned.

Now there are ways and means to homes. With Dad we have tried to strike up a relationship with a lovely home nearby. We were hoping to get him in there for a day’s care each week first so he ould get to know the staff and when the time came, the move would be seamless. But they don’t do local authority rates, which means we’d have to pay at least £500 a week and of course, now that Dad’s assets are gone, we don’t have £500 per week. I think this strategy would have worked if we’d had a better understanding of the benefits and care system since we’d have chosen from one of the homes that takes funded residents. It’s excellent if you are self-funded since that’s not an issue.

Obviously at the time we started it off, Dad was self-funding but also, I was unaware that Dad’s income and Mum’s income are seen as separate for this purpose and therefore, Mum’s assets are hers and now that Dad’s have gone he is eligible for funded care, regardless of whether or not Mum has any money of her own. Dad will have either Local Authority care or (if applicable) National Health Continuing care – although that is a bit of a lottery – but we will have him assessed for it, anyway.

So, big lesson for the future here, couples. Keep your capital investments and your bank accounts separate; his and hers. A joint account is fine, but you also need one each of your own. And if you are looking after a brace of parents and only one of them is ill, it’s the ill one’s cash that is being assessed here, not the well one. Plus, if the well person owns a house with the ill person, it cannot be sold to fund care while either of them is living there. In other aspects, the rules of engagement seem to differ from local authority to local authority. There are check factors for NHS continuing care and certainly Dad’s symptoms would fit those, but he has Alzheimer’s so it’s not always a given, even if, legally, it is supposed to be.

Modern medicine being what it is, Dad has lasted a very long time. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s just over 5 years ago but has been experiencing cognitive and memory difficulties since 2004. By 2010 Dad was unable to read a full length novel. By 2014/15 he was unable to read at all. He has needed live-in care since 2016 – actually he needed it well before that but Mum did it all herself, refusing, point blank, to accept any but the smallest amount of help until 2016; March, to be precise, which was the point at which her health finally broke down and she ended up in hospital. We had seen it coming at Christmas and so we had been working with the local ladies who came in during the day to sit with Dad while she went out into the garden. We’d been trying to get a 24 hour rota together. We came close but couldn’t cover weekends.

Obviously, when Mum ended up in hospital, neither my brother nor I was available to sleep with my Dad for more than a week so we got live-in care then, against my mother’s wishes, initially, but she did come round eventually.

Dad is still going strong, even if his mind isn’t and I could see him being hale and hearty, if totally batty, in three, four or even five years’ time. The pace his Alzheimer’s is going, if it is the disease that kills him rather than time, nature, or something else, he has a good eight or nine years of twilight to come, minimum.  Even if he’d been a millionaire, his cash wouldn’t have lasted long enough to see him through. As it is, Dad wasn’t a millionaire, far from it, but his life-time accrued assets have amounted to three years of live-in care, with extra night cover, a fair few extra hours during the day and so on.

One of the things about self-funding is that many homes will need you to be able to guarantee residency of two years from the funds you have. Obviously if the person dies, it’s different, or if they ask you to remove the person. But it’s worth thinking about if you’re looking at a home. If you have say, three or four years’ worth of funds for care, I’d think hard about making sure you find a home that will accept local authority or NHS funded places. You and your loved one with dementia may well hope that they will die long before it gets to the point where they need the home. It’s true, they might, but you can’t bank on that. You have to plan for them being like my poor dad and having to endure every single last horrific minute of Alzheimer’s as they grind their way on to a slow, tortuous and frankly horrific end.

To that end, it’s worth finding a home that will provide respite care or do some kind of day care/club so you can get the person with dementia going there regularly and get them used to it. Either they have to agree to go into a home while they are lucid and able, and get to know the place first, or you have to make up an elaborate ruse as to why they are going. In Dad’s case, one of the carers came up with a totally inspired one that he was going to a social club where there were a lot of very bored people who needed someone to talk to. Dad is basically well-meaning and was only too happy to oblige, chatting, turning on the charm and generally being very well behaved.

Mum promised Dad that she wouldn’t put him in a home and as a result neither of them thought to pick one out one just in case. To be honest, Mum and Dad have always assumed they will die before the time when many of these tricky decisions have to be made. Now that Dad isn’t really cognitively able, Mum has done her absolute best to honour the promise she made. However, neither she, nor Dad had any clue of the horrors they were to endure. Let me elucidate.

Your Alzheimer’s suffering loved one will gradually regress. First they will lose their memory, forget things, then they will start to lose their understanding of social skills, they might swear, say inappropriate things, especially sexually inappropriate things and like small children, will ask people to marry them. As an example, some of the choice phrases I have overheard.

‘Have you ever been fucked up the cunt by a man?’ to a nine year old who countered,

‘Pops, I know what those words mean, but you really shouldn’t be saying them in front of me.’

Inappropriate sexual suggestions may be made to said nine year old.

Alternatively, your patient will shout,

‘Fucking hell you’re fat!’ at people who have come to help them.  They may spit at them, throw things and tell people to, ‘fuck off out of my house! You fucking awful fucking woman.’

On other occasions, while trying to actually be helpful, they may tip their food on the floor. They will think that scraping the leavings off their plate onto the carpet at their feet is helpful because they will have completely forgotten about the middle bit where they take the plate to the kitchen and scrape the leavings into the bin. As they realise it gets a result, they may relearn that it’s wrong but continue to do it to get a reaction.

Tiny things will cause them to completely lose their biscuits. You have no idea how bizarre it is watching an eighty six year old man throw himself to the floor and lie there kicking and screaming because he doesn’t want to get dressed, in the exact same manner as a very spoiled and unpleasant two year old having a trantarum. Except, of course, you can’t just pick up fourteen stones of eighty six year old and carry him off under one arm. It’s fucking surreal, I can tell you. You can’t reason with them the way you can reason with a two year old either, they lack the cognitive capacity.

The Alzheimer’s patent in your life will do completely odd things like decide they hate their walking frame and pick it up and throw it across the room as soon as they sit down. If it happens to hit the sufferer’s frail and elderly wife, things could get pretty grim. Thank god Dad can’t walk about, he’d probably have fucking murdered someone! But seriously, an aside on that, one woman did get attacked by her father who had forgotten who she was and thought she was a robber. He was chasing her around the house with a kitchen knife when she texted his neighbour asking for help. The neighbour came and knocked on the door. Her father stopped the chase to answer the door and explained he was looking for a burglar who was in his house. Meanwhile his daughter slipped out of the back door, climbed to safety over the garden fence and into her neighbour’s house, through the back door, which he’d left open.

Other things Dad has started doing, he chucks stuff. His chair was next to his record collection but after an afternoon where he sent the records spinning across the room at Mum and the Carer, Odd-Job style, these have been removed. He tears up and throws books. He spits at people. He clears his throat, leans forward and spits on the floor (we have Lino in our drawing room now).  He asks for tea and then tips it onto the floor. This means he can’t have his water cup near him, either. If he wants water, he will ask.

‘Will someone kindly get me a drink of water?’

Unfortunately, he has no sense of time passing so if the cup is not in his hand before the question has left his lips, sometimes before he has even finished the thought, he will believe he has been sitting, thirsty, for hours and he will ask again, more forcefully this time.

‘I said will somebody kindly get me a fucking drink of water.’

Say, heaven forefend, he has thrown his sippy cup at someone earlier, or lobbed it away at some point and it takes a little time to find, or its landed on its side and it’s empty, the Carer may well say.

‘Oh dear, it’s empty, wait a minute and I will get you some more.’

While she is walking to the kitchen, filling the cup and bringing it back, Dad will think he has spent many hours neglected, waiting for his water and will have worked himself into an apoplectic state of rage.

‘I hate you fuck off! You fucking horrible fucking woman!’ he will be shouting. ‘I want. A glass. Of fucking. Water! Is that too much to ask? Get me some fucking water you fucking horrible people. I hate you! You fucking stupid bloody woman!’ And so on.

As a Carer, you need to time your return since if he is too angry, he will spit at you and try to push you away, or throw something at you; this may include, a vase, place mat, handkerchief, glasses or even in one memorable instance, a clock.

This is absolutely standard for Alzheimer’s patients. A few escape but it’s only a tiny handful. It’s best to assume that your kindly gentle loved one will go thought the violent, paranoid shouty phase with as much energy and conviction as everyone else. And when you hear stories of Alzheimer’s affecting people like this, it is never accentuated as the norm. Nobody ever dares mention the elephant in the room and if you’re a blind knob, like me, you miss it.

Obviously, you don’t want your loved one to be at home when this phase of the disease hits especially if their spouse is still alive. Timing it is very difficult, though. Clearly, you want your person with you while you can appreciate every last tiny flickering spark of who they were and still have them happily ensconced in a home before they reach the point where they have transmogrified into a rather less amusing and a lot more dangerous version of Father Jack.

But there may be a waiting list for the home you like and the patient’s name might not have reached the top yet. Furthermore, you may well feel that you don’t want to peak too soon so a spot may come up while they are still perfectly manageable at home and then, suddenly, days after you’ve turned it down, you will wake up and find your hitherto placid – if forgetful – loved one has turned into a spitty, screaming rage ball.

If that happens, the most important thing for you to take away is, it’s not your fault or theirs, but it has happened and now that it has, something must be done, at once.

Ideally, you will have picked the home together way before that, and the patient will move in while still cognitively able to think altruistically about their loved ones. But ideal and real life are so different aren’t they? My parents did not do this. Neither of them expected years of twilight lingering, they expected to snuff it quickly, but twilight lingering is clearly their lot. If in ten year’s time I am still writing posts about Dad’s latest antics, I will not be remotely surprised. The way I feel right now, I wouldn’t turn a hair if he outlasted me. But my point is this, I think my parents had absolutely no idea what they were walking into and I think if he’d had the slightest clue what the shouty stage entailed Dad would have been a lot less intransigent about dying at home and Mum about letting him. In fact, Dad would have probably booked the home and moved in, himself.

Even so, it’s impossible to get the timing right, there will never be an instant place the moment the need arises. You will either be incarcerating your loved on a bit before they are ready or a bit after. Or the downturn will be extremely sudden and you’ll be having them sectioned.

It may be that when someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s there is all sorts of support that helps walk them through these decisions, helps them and their family to prepare for the point when the person becomes mute and the only thing that speaks is the disease. Because however distressing and horrible it is, you need to see that, need to be aware that it lies ahead for everyone.

But although Dad was diagnosed in 2012, nobody actually bothered to tell Mum or him until 2017. By that time, his memory capacity had fallen from 80% to 40% and my brother was already pressing for Mum to put him in a home – my brother’s wife was a care worker for a time so maybe they knew more about the screaming, spitty anger ball phase looming ahead of us than we did. I mean, we all knew Dad would go nuts but there’s nuts and … NUTS.

Even so, it was only in 2018 that Dad’s personality began to really change. Suddenly, he became a little more child like, a bit spoiled, had to be the centre of everything but even that was bearable, although I started thinking about respite care for him and because I didn’t have the right knowledge about how Dad’s care would be funded I was nervously husbanding our resources, knowing that there was only a year and a half of care left when we went over to Mum’s assets, or about six months if Mum was at home with carers and Dad was in a home. As it is, Mum’s funds will see her for about three years if it’s just her care (much less required than for the two of them) or if Dad is funded.

People talk to you about ‘nursing care’ and you don’t really know what it means, you think it’s continence or ability to walk and dress, or maybe waking up in the night a lot and not knowing what time it is. Nobody points out that what ‘nursing care’ is really for is that bit between the not-being-able-to-remember-things stage, and living-corpse-open-mouthed-gaping, end-game. Neither does anyone point out that during that bit, your relative with dementia is going to go completely, fucking bat-shit crazy.

I’m talking about The fucking Shining.

That’s why I’m telling you now.

Because you need to be prepared.

You will not find your loved one in crazy.

There’s no reasoning with crazy.

There’s no living with crazy.

By all means try and keep your loved one at home for as long as is humanly possible, but don’t be fooled by the vaguaries and pussy footling about from people who are too British and awkward to tell you the truth.

When someone says that your relative with dementia is going to need nursing care and need to go in a home, what they are telling you is that your loved one is highly likely to go absolutely, completely, fucking off their rocker. So much so that, if you’re at home at the time, they might kill you.

If you’ve followed my posts about dementia,  you’ll know that I have learned this via a somewhat circuitous route. Now, I’m telling you, so you don’t have to.

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More bad parenting.

Remember my post last week about my epic parenting skills well here is another instalment. I was going to tell you one from many moons ago but I don’t want you to feel you need to be sympathetic, I just want to raise a chuckle, and also, there’s a second instalment of last week’s debacle which you might enjoy. I’m afraid it’s not as funny but it’s the kind of thing that happens on a normal non-eventful day in our lives so it will give you the idea of the kind of life I lead.

This week I finally managed to go to the talk McMini and I enthusiastically tried to attend somewhat prematurely last week. Here’s how it went.

McMini is able to stay at home this time with McOther though, as in a rare moment of normal person working hours, he is home by six. Woot.

However, nothing is that simple and shortly before leaving I am faced with a new challenge. McMini explains that while at school that day, he took his watch off to do some painting and that when he came to put it back on again, ‘it wasn’t there’.

He’s McMini, he’ll have left it somewhere precarious it and it will have fallen onto the floor.

‘My teachers are going to have a really good look for it tonight,’ he tells me.

McMini is McMini. He is not one of the normals – CF this picture (left) – although he’s slightly better at pretending than I am. Also, he has time keeping skills like mine, as in negligible. This inconveniences him when he wants to watch his favourite TV programme, the Simpsons, which he loves, because he keeps losing track of time and missing the start. To combat this singular source of annoyance, he has set an alarm on his watch to go off at the time the Simpsons begins; six pm.

Cue 1950s Technicolor miraculous moment Oooo-aaa-aaah music.

Yes! I realise that if the watch is somewhere non-standard, which it will be because this is McMini, the caretaker or teachers may well have difficulty finding it. But should that happen, all they need to do is stand in the room where he lost it at around six o’clock, wait for it to start beeping and home in. It also goes off five minutes afterwards so even if they don’t quite manage to find it the first time, hang around for five minutes and they’ll get a second shot when it goes off again.

Following this blinding revelation comes another one – I know, two in one night! Steady on – but I realise that I’m about to go up to the school and actually be there at six pm. I reckon I can find McMini’s watch if I can persuade them to let me stand in the classroom for a minute or two. Excellent, the watch may have disappeared but I have a very real shot at finding it.

When I arrive at the school I discover there are two events going on and one of the ladies from the office is doing a meet and greet, pointing people in the right direction for each one. She steps forward the minute I appear and says,

‘Oh Mrs McGuire, about McMini’s watch, his teacher thinks it might be in his drawer. They all put their watches in their drawers before PE.’

‘Ah, I think McMini put his on again and took it off for art,’ I explain and then I tell her about the alarm that’s going to go beep at six and ask if I can go and stand in the classroom.

‘I can go and have a look for it if you like? If you don’t mind waiting here …’

‘Not at all,’ I say, ‘shall I carry on letting people in?’

‘If you could.’

So off she goes. I do what she’s been doing, press the button to let people through the airlock and tell them that the year two meeting is in bumblebee class and that year six parents are to go to the main hall.

Time ticks on. I say hello to various friends going into the hall for the meeting I’m supposed to be attending. Finally, when things are looking a bit worryingly quiet, the lady comes back.

‘You’re right,’ she says, ‘It wasn’t in his drawer but then I heard it beeping like you said, so I followed the noise and found it.’

‘Bonanza!’ I say, ‘Thank you.’

I take the watch and scuttle swiftly in the direction of the hall.

Obviously, I am last in, but to my complete amazement, the meeting hasn’t started yet. McMini’s class teacher rushes up to me to reassure me that all hands are to the pump in the search for the watch and I am delighted to be able to break the good news to her; that we’ve found it and I explain how.

‘That’s genius!’ she says, and appears to really mean it, bless her.

We exchange a few more brief pleasantries and I walk to the front and sit next to a friend.

All goes well until, a few minutes into the talk, there is an insistent beeping from somewhere. The speaker stops. As the beeping gets louder, and faster, people shift uncomfortably and rummage in their bags for their phones to check it isn’t them. That’s when I realise the noise is coming from my arm. The lovely lady who found McMini’s watch heard the alarm and used the sound to locate it, but it seems she didn’t get there in time to switch it off. That means the five minute snooze period is up and it’s going off a second time.

Luckily no-one really minded.

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Trust me, I’m an expert … mwahahahaahrgh!

As you are all aware, because heaven knows I bang on about it enough, I lead a very busy life and because the tolerances for error are quite small, I sometimes make a comprehensive fuck up of things. Quite a lot of the time, to be honest. One of my specialities on this front is turning up at the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s the latest instance of this which I’d like to share with you now. It happened like this …

McMini and I are sitting at home relaxing after he’s come home from school when I open an email from the school. It is a new layout, and it starts like this.

Thursday 8th January,

SATS evening for parents.

Dear Parents/Carers

On Thursday 17th January at 6pm, we will be holding an information event …

PFC – pretty fucking clear – right? Er, no. Not to muggins here. I have seen the date at the top, Thursday which is tonight, and the title, SATS evening for parents, and so I ignore the body of the letter, because I’m far too fucking busy to read that, and merely scan for the start time, ah yes, 6.00pm.

I look at my watch.

‘Shit it’s five o’clock!’

‘What’s up Mum?’ says a cheery voice from the other room.

‘The school is doing a thing about your SATS and it’s tonight, at six pm.’

‘Oh what? Do we have to go?’

‘Afraid so, it’s really important.’

McMini appears in the hall all rolling eyes and sighs, ‘Won’t Dad be back in time for me to stay here?’

‘Not at six, no, sorry.’

‘Oh well, I have some charge on my iPad, can I bring that?’

‘Yes, and your reading homework, you can write your book report while your’re there.’

He’s leaning over my arm, reading the email on my phone.

‘Hang on Mum, it says kids aren’t allowed.’

‘No it says it’s not for you, I can still bring you along if I’ve nowhere else to put you, they just mean that I don’t have to bring you if there’s someone you can stay with at home.’

So we get ready but we take too long so we have to go in the car because there isn’t time to walk. When I get up there, we are, parking, and of course it’s one of those ones where it goes wrong. You know how, when you’re in a hurry, you always get the angle wrong and have to come back out and start again. Off we go, second time, reverse, turn, turn, turn, ‘MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!’

‘Shit.’

The arrow is actually pointing to the place where I’d put the firing button for the machine guns I will be placing behind the lights at some stage. Except now I’m thinking that if I’ll be inadvertently spraying the streets with fire every time I parallel park it might not be such a good idea. You can see the little trumpet where the hooter button is to the right of the arrow. There’s one of those each side so I have double the opportunities to beep in error like a fucktard.

I used to have a car with a hooter in the centre of the steering wheel and I beeped it with my elbow every time I reversed. This car has two hooter switches, one each side. Someone does something stupid on the motorway, nearly killing us all and can I find the hooter? Can I buffalo? But I still manage to beep the fucking thing by mistake every. Sodding. Time. I. Park! Maybe when I’m next in a dangerous situation, I should try not to hoot, then I might chuffing manage it.

McMini puts on an expression of mock shock at me for swearing and in his best Walter from Dennis the Menace voice he says,

‘Mother I’ve told you about swearing in front of me, you’re setting a very bad example.’

‘I know, I’m a terrible mother,’ I reply, giggling because I know he’s only taking the piss.

‘There’s an old man in that house staring out of the window at us, he’s looking very disapproving.’

‘I expect he is. I’m making a right pig’s ear of this parking.’

‘It’s not the parking, I don’t think he liked you hooting.’

‘I don’t blame him. I didn’t either. Right,’ I haul the handbrake on. ‘Come on, let’s go.’

Immediately a stream of cars comes up the street so we have to wait for them to pass before McMini can get out.

‘It’s the Truman Show!’ he says cheerfully. ‘They’ve been waiting ages to drive up here at the moment it would be most annoying for you.’

I heartily agree. My whole life’s the fucking Truman Show in that respect,

We arrive at the school as the clock on the church two streets over strikes six. Woot. Not exactly timely but we won’t have to do the walk of shame to the only seats left (at the front). Well, no, that’s not true. We will have to do the walk of shame but at least we won’t be doing it after the talk has started. I push the button to open the door but there’s no-one to buzz us through the air-lock or whatever they call the next bit.

‘Strange.’

Just then, two teachers appear and they come out and ask us if they can help. We say why we are there and they buzz us in.

‘Are you sure it’s tonight?’ asks one.

I’m not as it happens. I meant to check the email before leaving. ‘I thought it was,’ I say weakly.

‘The light’s aren’t on and there’s no-one else in the hall,’ says the other.

‘Uh … right,’ I say.

‘I’ll go and ask Mr Hammond,’ (the headmaster) ‘he’s still in his office,’ says the first one and she runs off up the stairs.

I have an Ely. That is, according to The Meaning of Liff, the first tiniest inkling that something has gone horribly wrong.

‘Hmm … I’m a bit of a spanner with dates, I may have stuffed up,’ I tell the other teacher as we wait. ‘Hang on, I’ll check the email.’

I get the email open and see that I have, indeed, misread it.

‘Shit,’ I say before I can stop myself. ‘Sorry,’ I start laughing, because cheery apology seems the best way to play it, ‘Will you look at that? I’m such a bell-end, I’ve got the wrong day.’ I remember that the other teacher has gone to get the headmaster. ‘Oh no I’m so sorry, and now I’ve woken the Kraken and everything!’ I say as I turn and realise Mr Hammond and the other teacher have just arrived and heard everything, including the bit where I refer to the act of fetching him from his office as ‘waking the Kraken’.

He looks knackered and I apologise for dragging him away from his work. The three of them are all extremely good natured and up beat about it, I’d have told me to fuck off! and we laugh and apologise cheerily and McMini and I go away marvelling, in a slightly giggly way, at my complete ineptitude. As I get into the car. McMini says,

‘Mother you swore in front of the teachers, you said ‘shit’ and you called yourself a bell-end in front of Mr Hammond.’

‘Oh dear, did I?’

‘Yes you did! You know in early years, when I said bollocks and I got told off and they asked me where I got it from and I said ‘my mum’ and they didn’t’ believe me?’ he says, reminding me of yet another example of exemplary parenting from my past.

‘Yes I do,’ I reply.

‘Well they know I wasn’t lying now! Because they’ve heard you swearing, so they know it was you and they know you’re a foul-mouthed shrek-lady. They’ve got … what is it when you have loads of evidence?’

‘Hard evidence?’

‘No.’

‘Cast iron proof?’

‘No.’

‘They’ve got me bang to rights?’

‘That’s the one! They now have you bang to rights because they have concrete evidence that you swear in front of me and not just in front of me but in front of the headmaster! They know you are a very bad mother.’

We start laughing about this but I do manage to leave the parking space without beeping the chuffing hooter again and the Disapproving Man has gone from the window so I thank the lord for small mercies.

‘I am a bad mother, but, at the same time, I must be doing something right if I have such a good, well mannered little boy.’ Obviously, I say this in a really syrupy voice, like the Walter the Softee one he does when he calls me ‘mother’.

‘True mother, despite your somewhat idiosyncratic parenting you really have produced a most charming and well behaved child.’

‘Exactly, you hear and see me behaving extremely badly but you don’t, that has to count for something,’ I say. ‘Although, they’ll be wondering back there, won’t they?’

‘Yes, they’ll be saying to each other, “how could such an evil crone produce such a perfect little boy?”’

‘Indeed. Why is he not affected by that potty-mouthed harridan he calls his mother? Mr Hammond has probably had to go and have a lie down.’

‘I bet he does an assembly about it tomorrow, he’ll say McMini is a lovely charming little boy despite the fact his mother is a horrific, sweary, shrek-like crone!’

‘That’s right, he’ll say I’m dirty! A dirty, filthy, vile, morally-dissolute, harridan!’

‘And a shrek!’

‘And a shrek.’

We spend the journey home coming up with more and more colourful adjectives for fictional Mr Hammond to use in assembly while describing my dreadfulness, and shouting them at a higher and higher volume, as if his fictional disapproval is moving from strongly-voiced, through angry to apoplectic.  The incongruity of this, when placed against the actual, real Mr Hammond, who is is the most calm, measured and even-tempered person you could care to meet, is a source of childish amusement to both of us.

We continue randomly shouting pejorative adjectives at one another for several days.

I really should be setting an example.

Yeh but …

Oh well, you can’t win ’em all.

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